Friday, December 12, 2014

Todd Proctor: A Rare Pebble in the Pond.

If Southern California church culture were a pond, I would describe it as big, beautiful and curiously shallow. Big and beautiful, because it has produced some of the great revivals and church movements of the last century. It's a vivid expanse of shimmering influence. Curiously shallow though, because despite the notoriety of its churches, seminaries and leaders, it has cultivated a convenient brand of Christianity that bears little resemblance to the blood and dust of historic Biblical faith. In this pond, the leader with the smartest facilities, slickest programs and biggest personality, usually wins. The shallowness of the pond enables the most possible people to paddle with the least possible risk to their comfort. Someone once called the pond a mile wide and an inch deep, which is unkind, but not altogether untrue.

Thankfully though, there are some notable exceptions in the pond; leaders with the courage to call people to wade in beyond the shallows into deeper waters. Todd Proctor, who has led Rock Harbor, a multi-site mega-church in Costa Mesa for the past 16 years, is one such exception. Although he could be considered a big fish in the pond, to me he is a more like a pebble that God has tossed into the pond causing a powerful kingdom ripple effect.

I was asked to write a tribute for Todd as he resigns from his role at the end of this year. That I am writing this tribute is ripple itself, I suppose. I am not a mega-church pastor myself, and there is an unwritten code in the pond that big fish do not swim with little fish, unless the big fish are offering the little fish a job, of course. By God's kindness, Todd ignored the code and befriended me. At times, as I've sought Todd's counsel, it's felt like the scene from Finding Nemo, where Dory is being pulled from the deadly school of jelly fish by Nemo. (Pardon the fish/pebble mix of metaphor) The point is, Todd has been willing to risk being stung himself in guiding me through some tricky waters. He's become part sage, part coach, part brother to me, which is almost too good to be true. He's given me courage to believe that you can still win without all of the classic trappings of success in the pond. This has been a remarkable gift to me and many.

For me, one word characterizes Todd more than any other. Humility. It's not that he's lacking in confidence or shy of the spotlight. He's a skillful communicator, gifted worship leader and all-star strategist. It's just that he's more enamored with the future than his own ego, and is therefore willing to take a step backwards himself, in order to catapult a people forward into a vision. His humility includes a reluctance to build around one gifted personality, a readiness to risk with young leaders, and an insistence that Jesus be center stage. Worship is the main reason people give for making Rock Harbor their home church. Not a preacher. Not a program. Worshipping Jesus. A kingdom ripple indeed.

Another mark on the pebble is uncommon generosity. Todd is one of the most strategic leaders I know, but I've watched him spend himself on others in a way that is recklessly un-strategic. Under his watch, Rock Harbor has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on an Easter Together event they put on every year that is devoid of their name. No building the brand.  Just a massive celebration of Jesus. How beautifully wasteful? I've watched them give a small fortune to ministries beyond themselves, with nothing to gain except the well done of the Father and the advance of His Kingdom. No increasing our market share in the pond. Just a desire to bless out of blessing. I have heard him encourage his people to go and help another church being planted down the street by joining them. They listened and left. How wonderfully irresponsible? A few months ago he drove through 2 hours of traffic to speak to our church for 10 minutes as we ended a time of prayer and fasting. It was 10 of the most powerfully shaping minutes we have ever  experienced as a church. At least half of the power was in the fact that his drive to us was 12 times longer than his message to us. No big crowd or honorarium. He was like a wise coach giving his team a half-time pep-talk. Except it wasn't his team. How marvelously upside-down?

Which is why I want to honor a man who has humbled himself to serve Jesus and His church again and again, disturbing the shallow peace of the pond in most profound ways. I pray that Rock Harbor would hold on to Todd's legacy, and that God would cause the ripple effect of his pebble to be felt in the pond and beyond for generations to come.




Thursday, December 11, 2014

When a field becomes a farmer.

Last week we baptized 14 Christ-followers, as our Fullerton and Brea communities gathered together to celebrate the Gospel. A woman who had explored different faiths and philosophies and had gradually become convinced of the claims of Christ over a period of 3 years, was baptized. This was glorious. A man who happened to be there on his way to a wedding, was convicted of his sin, repented and got baptized on the spur of the moment in his wedding clothes! Many more stories were buried and raised to life from that watery grave. Too many to tell of.


Perhaps my favorite story of the day though,  was a man who was baptized not last week, but last Easter, 9 months ago. A returning soldier from Iraq, he limped with some very real wounds from war. You could not notice them at first. He came across as a strong, composed and confident man, but inside he was an isolated and broken soul, struggling to let anybody into the pain of his interior world.  He told me one day how he would sit Sunday after Sunday in church, fighting God's grace and healing, unable to relinquish his pain and anger. He was turned in on himself. He told me that he would sit there clenching his jaw, resisting the call to repent, to forgive, to allow Jesus in. One Sunday he became weary of resisting God's irresistible grace and relented. God has renovated his life in remarkable ways.

On Sunday he stood watching the baptisms, tears streaming down his face. His heart had melted. This, however, was no sentimental moment of emotion. I saw him after the service mopping up around the baptismal font, where water had splashed all over the platform and onto the carpet. I asked if I could help. His reply. "Oh no, happy to do this, and by the way, you said there might be an opportunity to plant a church in Riverside. If that's the case, count us in. We're from Riverside."
The clenched jaw was now opened in grateful willingness.

The aim of baptism is to make disciples of Jesus who will make disciples of Jesus. In Christ, the field becomes the farmer. Those who lived for themselves, are saved from self-centred living, turn to live for Christ, and end up living for others.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Reflections on Advent - A Guest Post by Brett McCracken.

This Sunday we begin our Advent series at Southlands; "And He shall be called." To enhance this journey. we'll be walking through Biola's The Advent Project as a community devotional. I asked Brett McCracken, one of our members who is a writer and journalist and who works at Biola, to write a guest post on Advent and the Advent project. Let's Advent together.



Reflections on Advent by Brett McCracken

Endless parties, crowded malls, family drama, credit card debt, and more mistletoe and merriment than we know what to do with… Christmas in our culture has become an overstuffed monument to excess that often feels like more trouble than it’s worth.

But beneath all the gingerbread, glitter and chaos of the Christmas season is the simple, beautiful advent of Christ: His coming to earth, and His coming again.

The sacredness of this season may seem at odds with the peppermint-scented commercialism all around us, but in a way the jarring juxtaposition is appropriate.

Advent is a season that embraces tension and paradox. It’s about the now and the not yet. Contentedness and longing. Pain and hope. Darkness and light. What has come and what will come.

Advent celebrates the moment when true light entered our dark world. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is. 9:2). The baby in Bethlehem was hope, redemption, God with us: Present in the midst of our suffering; familiar with our struggle. Emmanuel.

The baby was a flicker of light that became a flame that swept across the world, illuminating the dark in all corners of creation. The traditional Christmas Eve candlelight service is a good image of this.

But the darkness persists. The weary world rejoices at Christ our hope. But the world is still weary. The beauty of Advent is that it accepts weariness, even embraces it. It is joy in the midst of weariness. Joy mixed with stress, struggle, pain, lament… As we wait for Jesus to return and right all wrongs.

This Advent, quiet your stressed self and nourish your weary soul by dwelling on the beauty of the incarnation of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Our friends at the Biola University Center for Christianity, Culture & the Arts have put together a great resource to help us focus our attention on what matters this season. It’s called The Advent Project.

Together as a church, we are going to be using the Advent Project during December as a community  devotional that incorporates Scripture, music, visual art and prayer. In the midst of the busyness of this season, the Advent Project is a great way to stay grounded in what it means to celebrate God’s first Advent even as we wait expectantly for His return. The rhythms of daily reflection during this season will help us adopt the proper posture as we look to Christmas and also as we look to the eschatological vision of the ultimate victory of light over dark: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Rev. 21:4)

As Biola states in the introduction to the project:

“Advent calendars come in all shapes and sizes (who doesn’t love the ones with hidden chocolates inside the windows?) but what they have in common is a daily rhythm of anticipatory reflection. They remind us not only that Christmas is coming, but that the days between now and then—the waiting—matters too. Advent is as much about the solemn tension of “now and not yet” as it is about the joy and magnificence of our present gift: God in flesh, our hope divine.”

Indeed, God in flesh is our hope divine. Ponder that amazing truth this Christmas season.


You can read more of Brett McCracken's work at Still Searching

Monday, December 1, 2014

Tending Eden's Dustbowls

John  Eldredge, the author of Wild at Heart bases his book on the idea in Genesis that Adam was created outside the Garden of Eden, while Eve was created inside the Garden. His thesis is essentially that men have an outside the garden wild side and therefore need an adventure or a mountain to conquer, while women are created with more of a nurturing instinct because they were created inside the garden.

While I don't disagree with the Biblical principles of men and women having complementary qualities, it seems to me that Wild at Heart may have missed the point quite dangerously. Besides this, countless hours and dollars may have been wasted on hunting and fishing trips in the hopes of men discovering their wild side. The book could have been sponsored by Bass Pro Shop! I encourage men to pursue adventure together, but I'm not so sure that the antedote to porn-and-play-station -addicted-couch potato-men is necessarily becoming mountain-climbing-trout-fishing-men. Both kinds of men can abdicate their God-given callings equally, simply by using different selfish distractions.

The dangerous assumption for me then,  is that Adam was placed inside a beautiful garden to tend it, and men have felt hemmed in ever since, longing for the freedom of the wild. This is simply unbiblical.  Adam left the Garden because his sin expelled him from it, rather than some God-given impulse to explore.

The problem is this. It misunderstands what it was for Adam to tend to a garden. It assumes that Adam is some domesticated gardener with a lawnmower and a weed-whacker, when actually he was a farmer.

Wild at Heart describes man essentially as an explorer, and woman essentially as a nurturer. While there may be some truth in this, it overlooks the innate call of a man and a woman to be cultivators, nurturing life and bringing flourishing from barren places.

You see, Eden was not, at first, a luscious garden. Eden was a dustbowl. It was more Omaha than Oregon. More African high veld than Amazon rain forest.

"When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up  -  for the Lord God had not yet caused it to rain on the land and there was no man to work the ground.  Genesis 2:5 

This is how Moses described the order of Eden in Genesis.
God watered the face of the land with a mist. vs 6.
God formed the man out of the dust vs 7.
And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the East, and there he put the man He had formed.  V8.

Eden was still a dustbowl. A dustbowl planted with garden life; a fertile one at that, but no plant or tree had yet sprung up.

Once God had put the man in the Garden, Genesis tells us that, "The Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food." vs 9. 

Eden was a dustbowl until the Adam was there. God had planted it with life, but only after Adam was placed in the Garden, did God cause it to grow. Adam and Eve farmed Eden together as a team.

The essence of what it is to be a man, more than a mountaineer, may well be closer to a farmer; tending to a farm, tending with his wife as a united team, tending a farm of sons and daughters,  families,  marriages, communities, cities, companies, churches, nations. Nurturing life from  God-watered, God-planted dustbowls and bringing flourishing.  This is what it is to be God's man and God's woman. 

The idea of 'exploring a mountain' is a biblical one. So is the idea of 'nurturing a home'. 
But the essence of bearing God's image is cultivating a fertile field. 

There are countless dustbowls in this world, planted with Eden potential. 

God will water them if we will tend them. 




Tuesday, November 25, 2014

When Thanksgiving Happens

We're two days away from my favorite American Holiday of the year. I wish it could be exported around the world instead of Halloween. I know it's a uniquely American holiday, a celebration of provision and peace between the Pilgrims and Native Americans, but remembering to be thankful is such a universally great concept beyond stuffed turkey, pumpkin pie, and football, I would recommend that we  use it as a moment to speak wisdom to our souls.

David models this for us in Psalm 103 by reminding his soul to 'forget not God's benefits.' "Bless the Lord oh my soul, and forget not his benefits, He redeems your life from the pit, He heals all your diseases, He crowns you with loving kindness." Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians 5 that God's will for us all is to be thankful on all occasions. Thanksgiving, the tryptophan-empowered moment, can therefore be a catalyst towards Thanksgiving, the Jesus-empowered  lifestyle.

If this is the case, Thanksgiving happens, not so much when we take the green bean casserole out of the oven, but when we posture our souls to remember God's redemption, healing and loving kindness. So very briefly, whether we celebrate the actual holiday or not, let's look at how thanksgiving can happen as a lifestyle.

1. Thanksgiving happens when we honor the Creator's creation.
The cursory thanksgiving tradition  is to go around the table and say, "I'm thankful for..."which is great, but to say "I am thankful to God for..." is to swim against a cultural tide that glorifies creation but refuses to glorify the Creator. This is to acknowledge God as Father, Creator, Redeemer and Owner of all things, which  is to receive every good gift as a faithful steward rather than an owner.

2.  Thanksgiving happens when we are more mindful of what we have than what we want.
We tend to be forgetful of what we have and mindful of what we want. Godliness with contentment is great gain.The great irony of Thanksgiving is Black Friday. We sit and thanks God for what we have and then rush away from the table  to make a grab for the things we simply cannot live without. If you tend to be discontented, it may be a good thanksgiving discipline to boycott Black Friday, simply for the sake of practicing contentment. I know that's what I'm doing.

3. Thanksgiving happens, not when we are most blessed, but when we are least entitled.
Entitlement is a Thanksgiving killer. If we think we are entitled to God's blessing there really is nothing to be thankful for, is there? The brutality and beauty of the cross is a reminder that we are more wretched than we ever dared imagine, yet more loved than we ever dared hope. This helps us stay humble and thankful, realizing that whatever we have we have received because of God's underserved grace in Jesus, counting every gift as a blessing from Him.

So here's hoping we can use this Thanksgiving moment to kickstart us into thanksgiving momentum.
Happy Thanksgiving.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Cultivating Eden.

John Eldredge, the author of Wild at Heart bases his book on the idea in Genesis that Adam was created outside the Garden of Eden, while Eve was created inside the Garden. His thesis is essentially that men have an outside the garden wild side and therefore need an adventure or a mountain to conquer, while women are created with more of a nurturing instinct because they were created inside the garden.

While I don't disagree with the Biblical principles of men and women having complementary qualities, it seems to me that Wild at Heart may have missed the point quite dangerously. Besides this, countless hours and dollars may have been wasted on hunting and fishing trips in the hopes of men discovering their wild side. The book could have been sponsored by Bass Pro Shop! I encourage men to pursue adventure together, but I'm not so sure that the antedote to porn-and-play-station -addicted-couch potato-men is necessarily becoming mountain-climbing-trout-fishing-men. Both kinds of men can abdicate their God-given callings equally, simply by using different selfish distractions.

The dangerous assumption for me then,  is that Adam was placed inside a beautiful garden to tend it, and men have felt hemmed in ever since, longing for the freedom of the wild. This is simply unbiblical.  Adam left the Garden because his sin expelled him from it, rather than some God-given impulse to explore.

The problem is this. It misunderstands what it was for Adam to tend to a garden. It assumes that Adam is some domesticated gardener with a lawnmower and a weed-whacker, when actually he was a farmer.

Wild at Heart describes man essentially as an explorer, and woman essentially as a nurturer. While there may be some truth in this, it overlooks the innate call of a man and a woman to be cultivators, nurturing life and bringing flourishing from barren places.

You see, Eden was not, at first, a luscious garden. Eden was a dustbowl.

"When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up  -  for the Lord God had not yet caused it to rain on the land and there was no man to work the ground.  Genesis 2:5 

This is how Moses described the order of Eden in Genesis.
God watered the face of the land with a mist. vs 6.
God formed the man out of the dust vs 7.
And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the East, and there he put the man He had formed.  V8.

Eden was still a dustbowl. A dustbowl planted with garden life; a fertile one at that, but no plant or tree had yet sprung up.

Once God had put the man in the Garden, Genesis tells us that, "The Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food." vs 9. 

Eden was a dustbowl until the Adam was there. God had planted it with life, but only after Adam was placed in the Garden, did God cause it to grow. Adam and Eve farmed Eden together as a team.

The essence of what it is to be a man, more than a mountaineer, may well be closer to a farmer; tending to a farm, tending with his wife as a united team, tending a farm of sons and daughters,  families,  marriages, communities, cities, companies, churches, nations. Nurturing life from  God-watered, God-planted dustbowls and bringing flourishing.  This is what it is to be God's man and God's woman. 

The idea of 'exploring a mountain' is a biblical one. So is the idea of 'nurturing a home'. 
But the essence of bearing God's image is cultivating a fertile field. 

There are countless dustbowls in this world, planted with Eden potential. 

God will water them if we will tend them. 





Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Saigon River Reflections

"Good Morning Vietnam." I can't help mouthing the timeless Robin William's line from the movie of the same name this morning as I run along the Saigon River. The buzzing  swarm of a thousand scooters, the heady steam  from a hundred street pho stands. This place has got under my skin.

We've just flown in from Australia. We were with our friends from Coastlands Church in Adelaide, who have weathered some significant storms the last few years, navigating them with courage and composure, and are now sailing into friendlier seas. We loved the time with them and  God met with us together in remarkable ways.

We love being with churches in transition. We have faith for Jesus to renovate and redirect His church through transition, because we have seen Him do it so many times; with London Road Johannesburg,  Vintage Westside, Cornerstone Newcastle, City Gates Toronto, and of course, with Southlands itself. All these churches are at different stages in their transitions, but we have been witness to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who continues His covenant of faithfulness to His people. Of course, God is the God of change and transition always brings with it change. But He is also the God of continuity, showing steadfast love from generation to generation.

My limp is for the people in transition who fall or jump off the boat because of nostalgia or offense. God wants us to be like Joseph, 'whose bow remained steady and whose arms remained limber.' He calls us to be both steady and limber in transition. Nostalgic people aren't limber because they tend to be stuck in the past, placing a template on the present for how God must work. Offended people lack steadiness, because they find their position of favor or prominence from the previous season gone, and they struggle to be faithful in a new season.

Navigating transition requires both courage and finesse. When people remain steady and limber God does remarkable things. When we find ourselves sinking in the seas of nostalgia or offense, we can call to Jesus to rescue us, not only for our sake, but for the sake of His church. He is faithful and powerful.

The church here in Vietnam also finds itself sailing into the waters of transition. I suppose it's a little like moving from the slow and steady flow of the Saigon River to shooting the Colorado Rapids. Transition is swift, bumpy and dangerous but it can also propel us on in God's grand purposes if we read the season well.

We covet your prayers, for wisdom, grace and courage to be a help to the people of Thu Thiem Community at this time. We can be here with confidence because God has given us as a people a testimony of His faithfulness in transition.

To Him be glory in His Church both now and forevermore.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Rumors of Revival

The book of Habakkuk is essentially a glimpse of how faith progresses in a person's life. Habakkuk is like God's own show and tell for us and there is much to learn about how God refines faith, for those willing to watch and listen. He moves from wrestling with God in the valley of complaint, to waiting on the wall like a watchman for God's answer, to writing down God's curious answer and running with it. He ends up worshipping God on the mountain, a man convinced of God's goodness and power even though nothing in his circumstances has changed. God has transformed Habakkuk to be able to rise above his circumstances. Although our faith journeys may not progress in exactly the same manner, it's a very helpful glimpse into God's process of refining faith.

Peter, the disciple who denied Jesus three times, wrote in his first epistle that we are to count it all joy when our faith is tested by trials, because the testing of our faith will bring glory to God, which is more precious than gold. When Jesus restored Peter around the fish barbecue, he said, "Peter, satan has asked that he may sift you like wheat but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail you." Jesus, the author of our faith is committed to refining and finishing our faith, which is more precious than gold.

One of the aspects of Habakkuk's faith that impresses me, is that he submits to God's Sovereignty in sending the Babylonians to capture Israel, but doesn't allow this news to cause him to spiral into fatalism. His faith is on the one hand submissive yet on the other aggressive. In the midst of God's news about Babylonian conquest he prays, "Lord, I've heard of your deeds, I've been told of your fame, renew it in our day, in the midst of the years make it known."

Refined faith recognizes that God often does His best work in the dark. Habakkuk, instead of focussing on the seeming injustice of Israel's exile to Babylon, begins to pray for revival in the midst of it. He spends a whole chapter remembering what it was like when God redeemed and rescued Israel from exile in Egypt, and he prays for a second Exodus. He begins to spread rumors of revival in the midst of exile. 

I believe the Church today should take their cue from Habakkuk. There are many rumors of Christian persecution spreading from the East to the West. Compared to Christians in the East, Middle East and in Africa, it could really only be described as pressure at this stage, not full blown persecution. But one doesn't have to be a pessimist to see a general erosion of religious freedom. Rich Nathan, former law professor at Columbus university and present Vineyard pastor has written an illuminating article on this erosion. You can read it here. richnathan.org/article/religious-freedom-under-attack/?.  

However, while there are those whom God has called to stand up for religious freedom, we must remember that historically, persecution has strengthened the Church. I read an amazing exchange between James Draper of the Southern Baptist Mission's Board and one of the leaders of the Chinese House Church movement, who said to him, "Please stop praying for persecution to stop in China. It is this persecution that has brought about revival in the church in China. In fact, we are praying for the church in America, that you would experience some persecution so that you could experience revival like us." 

Look, I'm not sure if my faith is there yet. I'm certainly not praying for persecution yet. But I can see what he's saying and church history bears it out. Faith in God's Sovereignty means that we can say t "What man intended for harm, God intends for good, for the saving of many lives." (Gen 50) It's not that we ignore the injustice of persecution, but we should face the fact that we as the church are effectively in exile, and begin to  focus on God's ability to revive His church in the midst of exile.

we should also remember that God is able to turn persecution around as suddenly as it came upon us. As John Stott wrote in his commentary of Acts chapter 12, "The chapter opens with James dead, Peter in prison, and Herod triumphing; it closes with Herod dead, Peter free, and the Word of God triumphing. Such is the power of God to overthrow hostile human plans and to establish His own in their place."

In the light of this then, let's be a people who face the possibility of persecution, but spread rumors of revival, confident that God is building His church and refining our faith.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Habakkuk, the Wrestling Prophet

We tend to skip over the little guys at the end of the Old Testament, but there's some incredible gold to be found there. They're called the Minor Prophets, not because they're Minor League, but because their messages are shorter than prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah. This is their potent beauty. They are generally one message men with an unmistakable burden from God. The Bible calls it their oracle.

Haggai's oracle was for Israel to rebuild the temple. Hosea's oracle was to communicate God's faithfulness to adulterous Israel by marrying a prostitute in the hopes that they would repent and return to God. Habakkuk was a little different. His oracle was less a public message to Israel, and more like reading a prayer journal between him and God. It's conversational, but it's not pleasant conversation. It's a wrestle of faith.

Habakkuk opens the conversation with two complaints to God; "How long, oh Lord?" and "Why do good things happen to bad people?" Which of us have not wrestled these questions before?

The cliff note summary of the wrestle would go something like this. Habakkuk complains that God is taking a long time to bring justice wickedness in Israel and asks God what He's is going to do about it. God responds by saying that He's going to raise up the even more wicked Babylonians to discipline Israel. Habakkuk responds by complaining that this doesn't seem like a really great idea at all. God responds by saying that in time He will judge Babylon too, restore Israel and flood the whole earth with the knowledge of His glory. Habakkuk stops arguing; "The Lord is in His temple let all the earthy be silent,"and begins to pray; "In wrath remember mercy, renew your fame."

Habakkuk is no skeptic. He is a man of faith, a prophet with a burden of complaint from God! Isn't that amazing? God dignifies the wrestle of faith through this man, whose name means 'to wrestle and cling,' by giving Him a burden of complaint about God. But his doubt and lament drive him towards God rather than away from Him. Have you ever considered that God has allowed the Scriptures to contain lament and complaint because He knew that people of faith would wrestle in faith? He is big enough and secure enough to handle it and is able to use it to strengthen us. He doesn't always answer us in the way we would like but He listens and answers none the less, which is magnificent. Part of wrestling is submission to His Sovereign wisdom, but God dignifies our doubt by giving us a healthy model of wrestling in faith in Habakkuk.

Religion requires absolute certainty because if we are not completely certain we may not be completely saved. The Gospel on the other hand,  permits uncertainty because our salvation is not dependent on our certain faith but on Jesus’ certain faithfulness. This is good news indeed.

This Sunday at Southlands I will continue with Habakkuk: "where faith and pride collide." Join us.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Empty but Full: Some God Stories from our fast


Pounding caffeine headaches are probably my least favorite part of a fast, and I must say, it's good to be drinking coffee again. All of us have our own unique cravings I suppose, and these are amplified during a fast. What makes the feelings of physical emptiness worthwhile though, is a genuine sense of spiritual nourishment.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled. 

I'm so thankful for the faith-filled response from the people of Southlands. What a sense of earnest anticipation there was as we gathered to pray each night and so many answered prayers that I thought, "Let me share just a few of them with you."




A woman who has had two ACL operations on her knees and lives in constant pain sensed God telling her to kneel during worship. When she got up the pain in her knees had completely disappeared.God healed as she knelt to worship Him.

Another lady prayed that during the fast that her son would become a Christian. On the last night of the fast, she went home and he asked her, "Mom, what must I do to be saved?" She explained the Gospel to him, and he responded that he was wanted to entrust his life to Jesus. She led her son to the Lord that night.

A couple who have been working with us into Myanmar (Burma) are returning there next month to train children's ministry workers. They have also been supporting an orphanage there and building relationships with Burmese pastors and had been praying for God to provide for their trip. During the past week they had a friend from outside the church contact them to say that he wanted to give a significant amount of money to their work with Burmese orphans, as well as a ministry contact them to say they would supply them with children's ministry resources in Burmese.

On the final day of the fast the Manager at a local branch of a major chain store asked one of her employees, who happens to be a leader at Southlands as well, "What  social justice cause does your church support?" What ensued was a conversation about our partnership with Love146 and our desire to help eradicate child sex trafficking. The manager responded by committing significant financial support to the cause.

These and other stories of God encountering His people cause the sacrifices of fasting to pale into
insignificance. We are so grateful to our Father for graciously meeting with us. He takes great delight when His people turn from their sin and return to Him in hopeful expectation for His Kingdom to come. Let's maintain the tone and tenor of this Kingdom momentum into our coming series.
On earth as it is in heaven.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Tribute to my father on his 70th birthday.

It's when you miss family milestones like this that you feel the miles between you most acutely. At times like these the gift of technology, which normally makes the world seem so much smaller, just comes up short. Gestures of affection and honor that are in the heart are somehow compressed and truncated in words over a phone line. With that in mind, I'd like to amplify the gratitude I have to God for my Dad, by sharing some of his rare qualities with more than just him.


Most fathers, even if they are bad fathers, have some attribute through which we can glimpse one of the attributes of God the Father. Learning to honor our fathers is learning to look for that attribute, even if there is only one, that is like God and focussing upon it, instead of those aspects that may not be like God. We only have one Holy Father. He is in heaven. He alone can fill the gaps and heal the wounds that our earthly fathers left.  However, there are some fathers who in their humanity, manage to give us a very full glimpse of what God the Father is really like. This, by God's profound grace, is what my Dad has been to me.

The most obvious God-attribute in my Dad's life is his faithfulness.  My father is literally, a faith patriarch because of his faithfulness. He was a first generation Christian, in a salt-of-the earth, pillar-of-society familyBorn again was what they called it in those days, just before the term Jesus Freak became a popular critique of those who were uncompromising in their faith. My father honored his parents wonderfully, but he made some very costly stands as a young teenager who had met his Savior, and now purposed to follow him as Lord. He was one who would not simply enjoy the grace of God. He also began to grow in the fear of God.  He has shown resolute faithfulness to his wife, to his call, and to God's truth for as long as I have known him. I believe it is in part due to this faithfulness that both his parents came to put their trust in Jesus too.

I know that Dad's faith convictions have ruffled some feathers amongst the family from time to time. At times he was criticized for being unreasonable, and for taking his faith too far. But my Dad's unwavering convictions set the course of a life of costly obedience and remarkable kingdom import. "I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, praise the Lord!" could well be the theme song of my Dad's life. His resolute faithfulness to Jesus, setting his face like flint in the face of opposition, has likely been his most powerful example to me. I have watched him take on a whole denomination on the issue of believer's baptism at great cost to his own ministry and reputation, and more recently on the issue of homosexuality. His sharp mind and clear writing and speaking gift have helped him. But more than this is his fear of the Lord. He has honestly lived for an audience of One.

This faithful courage is held in beautiful tension with another Godly attributes. My Dad is not just a truth teller. He is a truth seeker. This combination is rarely found in the same person. Most truth tellers are so convinced of their truth that you feel they have nothing new to learn. Not my Dad! He is always listing and always learning, which is why he loves to have deep conversations. His language of love is the language of robust conversation! If you want to give him a gift for his birthday, have a robust, deep conversation with him. When you get into a conversation with him, sometimes it feels like getting into a boxing ring because he does not suffer fools gladly. You had better have your thoughts straight or you are going to take a logical/theological beating. But he is really listening and inviting you to challenge him. He is not trying to score points or win a fight. He genuinely believes he can grow from talking and listening. I love that about my Dad. I have been so sharpened and strengthened by sparring with him, and strangely enough, over they years we have come to see the world through a very similar lens. He is my Dad, but we are theological and philosophical brothers-in-arms. I pray that this will be the case with my children and I when they grow up.

There are so many more attributes, but this is a blog not a book. Maybe I could write a book about him one day. So the third and final God-attribute in my Dad, is that he has become a potent encourager to me. I think he has allowed God to grow this attribute in his life over the years, because he is by nature more prophetic than pastoral, which can mean that you correct more than encourage. My Dad will not flatter anyone, mind you. I remember him telling me one day that I had a good singing voice but not a great one, and that this meant that I may have more of a broad gift mix than just a worship leading one. See what I mean about his truth-telling?!  That stung a bit at first, but I am so thankful for his wise encouragement. He spurred me on to lay hold of that for which Christ laid hold of me. Honestly, over the years he has championed me on in God's call. He has done the same for my wife, whom he loves like a daughter.  He is not just a sparring partner. He has been like the coach in my corner, sponging my bloodied nose, putting vaseline on my black eye, and offering steady assurance. "I believe in you. I delight in you. You are going to win this fight."

Thank you Dad for a live so well lived in the grace and the fear of God.
Thank you for giving me such a full glimpse of my Father in heaven.
May you too, feel His pleasure for you on your 70th birthday.




Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Fast Theme Day 3: Finished work, unfinished work.


Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled in John the Baptizer's life. "A voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for Him. Every valley will be raised up. Every mountain will be brought low." Isaiah 40:3

Isaiah used a road building metaphor that described John's ministry. Whenever there was royal visit to a city, the people of that city would go out and smooth the road, filling in potholes and removing stones so that the royal procession would have a dignified arrival to the city. John called people to prepare the road of their hearts for Jesus' arrival.

In many ways that's what we've been doing as we've fasted. We've been preparing the road of our hearts for God's kingdom to come in fresh ways in our midst. Christ has come and Christ will come again, but in between these times He has called us to pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." The finished work of the Cross spurs us on to the unfinished work of the Kingdom. 

God calls us to be road builders preparing the way for the coming kingdom. A few things to consider in prayer on our final day of fasting in this regard:

1. Road builders embrace interruption
The people went out to the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. They embraced interruption. This fast has interrupted our schedules, our meal times and our family rhythms, but God's presence and work in our lives makes that so worth it. How can I set in place some ongoing rhythms of devotion beyond the fast, that continue to keep the road of my heart repentant and expectant?
Give God permission to interrupt you regularly.
2. Road builders engage in excavation.
If there were valleys and mountains in the road, it must have been a pretty rough road. God is in the business of filling in valleys of pessimism, cynicism and isolation. He is also in the business of leveling mountains of pride, self-sufficiency and addiction. Let's be honest about our valley/mountain tendencies and give him access to the road of our hearts. 
3. Road builders work with a common vision
Of course, there is a broad call to prepare the way for God's coming Kingdom. God has also given us a focussed vision of church multiplication through our 3in3 vision. We are trusting God to enable us to plant 1 multisite in SoCal, 1 autonomous church in north America and 1 church in a World A context. Pray for the provision of workers, finance and doors of opportunity for this vision to come to fruition. Ask God to make clear what part you are to play in 3in3and me? 
Is it to give, to pray, to train or to go? 
Let's be asking God to show us which way we are to prepare and make a commitment to that end.


See you tonight at 6:30pm for the feast and celebration with our friend Todd Proctor! 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Fast Theme Day 2: Kingdom Expectation

Such a great night of worship and prayer on the first day of our fast, with a fantastic turnout and a clear sense of God's presence as people repented and worshipped. I also appreciated the courageous and clear words of knowledge and exhortation. This is not a hunger strike. We fast to meet with God, trusting Him for increased Kingdom Momentum.



When John came preaching "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand," Luke's Gospel says that the people were in expectation.  Although there was a great revival of repentance in John's ministry, He stirred their expectation for something and Someone much greater than him and his ministry.
"I baptize with water but One is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. I am not worthy to untie his sandals."

Christ the Savior has come and Christ the King will one day return. In between these momentous events, He calls us to live with great anticipation for His Kingdom to come, on earth as it is in heaven. While Jesus' life, death and resurrection are unique and unrepeatable, He calls us to expect to do greater things than even He did in terms of kingdom exploit. This is because the kingdom which Christ inaugurated at His resurrection is advancing and expanding until His return.

Two questions we can be asking and praying through on Day 2 of our fast:
1) Have we fallen prey to the two enemies of Kingdom expectation, namely, nostalgia and pessimism?
Nostalgia keeps us from expecting greater things because we are longing for the good old days, and using them as a template for what God is doing next. In the words of Bono, "We glorify the past when the future dries up." Let's honor and learn from the past, but not glorify it. We don't know what God will do next, but it will not be exactly the same as what He did last, and it will offend many who enjoyed the last move of God.

Where nostalgia looks backwards with longing, pessimism looks forwards with panic, convinced that it's the end of the world and paralyzed by an impending sense of doom. While Jesus calls us to persevere through tribulation as Christians, He also describes a church that shines brightly in the darkness. "I will build my church  and the gates of hell will not prevail against it." He does not want what is happening in the world to dictate terms for His church, the fulness of Him who fills everything in every way. We are prisoners of hope in desperate times.

2) Do I have a kingdom 'wish list' that is beyond the meeting of my daily needs?
In Luke 11, when Jesus taught the disciples to pray he didn't just tell them to ask God for daily bread for their needs. He called them to ask for resources to meet other's needs. He told a parable of a man who had a friend arrive in the middle of the night unexpectedly. The man welcomed him in even though he had nothing to feed him. So he went to his neighbor next door and asked him for three loaves to feed his unexpected friend. The neighbor gave him the loaves because of his impudence, which means, shameless audacity. In short, God loves to be asked repeatedly for bread to feed our friends. This is something of a kingdom wish list. Who are the people and what are the situations of need for which God is calling you take kingdom responsibility? What resources do you need for these? Ask Him with shameless audacity, so that His kingdom might come.

See you on Tuesday night at 6:30pm.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Fast Theme Day 1: "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand"

It's good to remember that the point of fasting is not to prove ourselves to God or to anyone else. We fast from God's approval, not for God's approval. The point of fasting is that as we deny our appetite for food, we find that our appetite for God increases. Fasting is not just a hunger strike. It's denying ourselves food in order to feast on Jesus."Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled."

The night before a fast I always feel a mix of anticipation and agitation. Anticipation, because I know God is going to do something great, and agitation, because I know it's going to be a bit of a fight. Jesus experienced this when he fasted in the wilderness, but He overcame the temptation of the devil,  returning in the power of the Spirit. When we are willing to wrestle in fasting and prayer, we do muscle up spiritually, and we do it with the help of Him who also wrestled and overcame.

One of the ways in which we wrestle during a fast, is with our own sin. John the Baptizer's message was, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Remember that John's message was to an oppressed people who probably thought the wicked King Herod and the corrupt Chief Priests were the one's who needed to repent. But John called them to stop looking outwards in blame, look inwards and own their own sin and look upwards to Jesus to take it away.

I wish I hated my own sin as much as I hated other people's sin, don't you? We very easily want mercy for ourselves and justice for everyone else. True repentance is pleading guilty myself, realizing that God is rich in mercy to me, and then extending that same mercy to others who have sinned against me. This is why Jesus told us to, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."

Tomorrow as we begin our fast, let's ask the Holy Spirit to show us if there is any sin that we need to confess to God. He is the Holy Spirit, who convicts us of sin to make us more like Jesus. Let's confess our sin to God, and if need be to others, trusting Jesus to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Unrighteousness can include any attitude or action that does not glorify God. It can even include good things we do that have become ultimate things and have taken the place of God as idols.  Let's also ask the Holy Spirit to show us if we are living as debt collectors, with unforgiveness towards those who have sinned against us, asking Jesus for grace to send our debtors away debt free. Psalm 51 may be a helpful Psalm to pray through on this theme.

Repentance is the dinner bell to the table of grace and when we feast on Jesus' mercy, His Kingdom breaks in with great freedom.


See you tomorrow night at 6:30 pm. 









Wednesday, September 3, 2014

"On earth as it is in heaven." A call to prayer and fasting.

 When John the Baptizer came preaching "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Prepare the way of the Lord," he was speaking into exceptionally dark times. Herod, the puppet king of Rome had slaughtered every male child in the region of Bethlehem out of fear for Jesus, the Jewish Chief priests were political puppets of Herod and the people generally lived in fear of Rome. It couldn't have seemed to God's people that He or his Kingdom were very near at all.

But in the fulness of time God sent His Son Jesus, to save His people.We know and rejoice that Jesus has come, and that He will come again. We live in between the birth and the fulfillment of His Kingdom. In between His First and Second Coming we live in hopeful expectation for His Kingdom to keep breaking in here on earth as it is in heaven. It is how Jesus taught us to pray.

We are not unaware of the  darkness of our times. We don't have simple answers for the horrors of Mosul, Uganda, Gaza or Ferguson. Here in Orange County making disciples of Jesus is a different, but no less real challenge, and this also requires the power of the Spirit in profound ways. God promises that where sin abounds, grace further abounds. God's kingdom is still at hand in all of these situations, and we sense with great anticipation that He is breaking in to our lives with kingdom momentum.  John's message to God's people is one that we can still take to heart at this time.
It provokes us to repentance. It stirs us to expectation. It calls us to preparation. 

We will pray around 1 of these 3 themes each day for our church fast, from Monday 8th September
to Wednesday 10th of September. It is a water, soup and fruit juice fast. (Any or all)
We will gather to pray for an hour each night at 6:30 pm  and will break our fast together on Wednesday night.  I appeal to the whole church to observe this time as God's holy interruption.
What God has called us to as a church requires a united front in the area of prayer.
We've seen the Lord do amazing things among us as we've gathered twice a year to pray and fast and we are trusting Him this year for an outpouring of unprecedented power and grace.

Yours in anticipation,

Alan

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Leadership Toolbox: The Problem with Church as business

Business is booming for church PR and HR firms on the West Coast of the USA.

Up North in Seattle the De Moss Group, the nation's largest Christian ministry PR firm has been hired by Mars Hill Church at great expense to turn the heat down on the Mark Driscoll cauldron of criticism. Whether his recent repentance and standing down is godly sorrow or PR  crisis management is not clear, but suffice to say that there are a significant number people close to the situation who are skeptical about the sincerity of the process. It's easy to see how biblical integrity in restoring  a famously gifted preacher could be undermined by a PR company wanting to save bucks, butts on seats and ultimately the brand. Business principles and biblical processes have seldom been comfortable bedfellows, have they?

Further down the West Coast here in Southern California, there are many Christians with stones of righteous anger in clenched fists, ready to pelt the much maligned preacher up North for being a cut throat business-minded bully posing as a preacher. But if it is him who is without sin who should cast the first stone perhaps we should unclench our fists and do some honest soul-searching. In the milder South, we might be more mild and refined, but church, especially big church, is no less big business.

What that means is that we have to produce a high quality ministry product which means that we need to attract high quality ministry personnel. This often means that we have no time to mentor, train and raise up a crop of indigenous leaders from the soil of our own churches. The height of irony in this regard was seeing a post by a Mega church in our city wanting to fill a post for a 'Pastor of Discipleship.'

I just don't know if Jesus is really okay with us outsourcing the making of disciples, do you?

Now before I come off as self-righteous, let me acknowledge that I am not on principle against PR firms or employing church staff from outside. Five years ago during a messy church law suit we did hire a PR firm to help us represent ourselves well. In a libel culture it was helpful to have their expertise. However, when conventional PR wisdom undermined Biblical counsel we allowed Scripture to have the final say, which to be honest, was at great personal cost to us. I can also hardly afford to be against 'ministry imports' from time to time,  since I was brought in from the outside to be a pastor in the church I now lead.

My beef is with a perceived reluctance within churches to do the hard yards of raising up indigenous leaders.
The fruit of this attitude seems three-fold:
a.They defer the hope of those within churches who feel a vocational ministry call, which makes many hearts grow sick.
b.They avoid the messy process of mentoring young leaders, looking for some fantasy ministry knight in shining armor to rush in and rescue them from their ministry deficiencies. Such a person does not really exist.
c.They tend to employ hired hands rather than true shepherds, who leave as quickly as they arrive if the job does not find their fantasy ministry niche'.  These people may be skilled, even gifted, but seldom carry the ministry DNA of the church and it's leaders, and their character is untested.

My appeal is two-fold:
a. Every church invest significant time into the messy privilege of mentoring and risking with indigenous leaders, especially younger leaders. We have found the Porterbrook Network to be a great in-house training resource for developing leaders. We would love to help you get your leaders engaged in this course.
b. As leaders, we would do well to come to grips with books like Paul Tripp's "Dangerous Calling" and John Piper's "Brothers, we are not professionals," that insist upon ministry as calling before profession.

Let's trust God to help us raise up sons and daughters from the soil of our churches.

Tribute to Jonathan Dancer: Prophet and Priest

Yesterday I heard the news that Jono, as he was affectionately known, had gone home to be with the Lord after a long battle with cancer. The grief of losing a young man who has left a young wife, is somehow more acute, isn't it?  Christians are not given an exemption from the deep pangs of grief. But we do not grieve as those who have no hope. The blow of Jono's absence is significantly softened by the knowledge of his presence with Jesus as I write.

From California, I read the tributes of  honor to Jono that rolled in like warm Indian Ocean swell after winter. Then I read his final tribute to his wife, Debbie, posted on the day of his death.

"I have the most incredible wife. She has been a pillar of strength walking with me through this valley. I have fallen so in love with her my heart aches with gratitude for my precious wife, Deb." Heartbreakingly sad and sweet. May the lovingkindness of Jesus and His saints bear you up at this time, Debbie.

I wanted to write a brief tribute to Jono too, not because he was a close friend, but because his life left an indelible impression on me. I first met him when he sang in the choir at the our annual NCMI event in Bloemfontein. Larger than life in stature, gesture and voice, I cannot remember seeing Jono doing anything in half measures. He was a band leader's dream. Whole-heartedness personified, he was a worshipping thermostat of sorts who would alter the temperature of any room with contagious passion for Jesus. His heart was as big as a hotel.

Some may perhaps have thought him at times to be little melodramatic.
When I reflect on Jono's dramatic and brief life, I wonder whether that was God's whole point?
Jono's life was like the Divine Playwrite's one-act play.

God has often used dramatic people to get His people's attention. I think of the prophets who had to live their message in dramatic fashion. Hosea married a prostitute to demonstrate God's unfailing love to Israel, His unfaithful wife. Ezekiel lay on his left side for over a year and then on his right side for 40 days, to demonstrate the number of days that Babylon would lay siege to Jerusalem. Theirs was not merely a message. It was an oracle. A burden. It may not have been rational but it was impossible to ignore. Jono's life was reminiscent of these remarkable men. Perhaps the drama, and dare I say it, the brevity of his life, was intended to grab our wandering attention and stir the embers of our affection?

While teachers are concerned with the truth of God, and pastors concerned with the people of God, prophets are concerned with the very heart of God. They are not always theologically sound, and not always socially appropriate, but they treasure the heart of God. This is why we need them.
Jono was obsessed with the heart of God.  He  lived in pursuit of the heart of God, and we all watched this holy pursuit, feeling both delighted and a little convicted at our relative tepidness.
That's what prophets are made to do.

Jono was also a priest. Not the kind with a dog collar and a robe. The kind who understands that  Jesus the Great High Priest has qualified us to minister to God and His people. He could get lost in worship, but he could also make you feel like you were the only person in the world when he listened to you. He was able to draw empathy out of the deep well of his soul and pour it out for whoever needed it. He took a genuine interest in the welfare of the saints.

One memory illustrates this for me more poignantly than any other. A number of years ago we were staying in my parents house near Durban, visiting family and doing some ministry.  Jono was living in my parent's upstairs loft apartment at the time. I was teaching some musicians and worship leaders that Saturday morning, so I got up early to pray and do some final prep for the gathering. As I sat at the dining room table with my notes, I could hear Jono upstairs, already awake in his loft singing and praying. He was in full flight, his melodic voice drifting downstairs, impossible to ignore.  I stopped preparing and listened. Jono was praying for me, unaware that I was listening in. He was praying for grace and clarity for me as I taught that morning.  He was praying for God's presence to transform the musicians who were coming to be trained. And in true Jono fashion, he was praying for that we would all pursue the heart of God in worship.

Jono Dancer, I salute you. A true prophet and priest.  As you now minister to the King with unhindered delight in heaven, may the prophetic drama of your full, brief life here on earth bring us to attention.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Leadership Toolbox: Leading through Collaboration

One of the ways in which I've had to grow as a leader, is to develop a more collaborative leadership style. I'm not sure that I was completely non-collaborative as a leader in South Africa, but it seems to me that the culture in which I was raised placed a higher value on decisive authority than collaborative authority.

Moving to the USA almost 7 years ago forced me to reconsider what part of that value system was cultural and what was truly biblical.  The approach did have many strengths of course, because it tended to produce great visionary entrepreneurs who had a real can do mentality. Stuff got done. Ground got taken. Quite often though it was at the expense of due process,  and because we South Africans are generally loyal towards our leaders, any dissenting voices would often be labelled as having a heart issue towards  authority.

Especially in the churches we worked with that had an elder-led rather than a democratic church government, teams who did not appear to be co-operative with a decisive leader were labelled democratic, which was by no means a compliment. The recent Mars Hill/Mark Driscoll situation has reminded us that not all American-style church leaders are collaborative. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Celebrity church culture here can afford a leader a dangerous amount of privilege and power that can so easily result in the abuse of God's people. Honestly though, those cases seem to me to be the exception to the rule.  I've found generally, the expectation is that far more attention is given to due process, accountability and collaboration.

Now let me make it clear that I am still convinced of the Biblical wisdom of elder-led churches, and living here the last 7 years has further convinced me of the deeply damaging effect of  democratic church government  or elder board/pastor separation within churches. I'm thankful for men like Dudley Daniel and Terry Virgo who glimpsed and fought for a more biblical version of church leadership and brought so many churches into the freedom of this expression. "That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly - Praise the Lord!" Judges 5:2

Within the call to lead though, there does exist the Scriptural value of collaboration which I've had to discover and own. Every team in Scripture, beginning with the Trinity, has a leader. However,  God the Father collaborates in the opening stanzas of the Genesis creation account with the words, "Let us make man in our image." We also glimpse the collaborative nature of the Trinity in Isaiah 6, when the prophet Isaiah overhears God asking, "Whom shall I send, who will go for us?"

Moses receives counsel from his father-in-law Jethro about his approach to leading Israel and it transforms his leadership philosophy. Jethro was a pagan priest yet he still had wisdom for Moses!  The Book of Proverbs speaks often of the power of collaborative decision making. "Plans fail where there is no counsel, but with many advisers they succeed." (15:2)  Luke describes Paul's leadership style as both decisive and collaborative within his apostolic team in Acts 16. Paul has a dream of a man from Macedonia calling to him and his team mates conclude that it was the Lord, saying, "It seemed right to us and the Holy Spirit." They left that day.

Within the elder-team I lead, I am a first among equals rather than simply a first. I don't just lead a team. I am on a team, which means that my wife and I are accountable to the men and women we lead for how we live and for the decisions we make. I believe the best decisions are made in plurality by consensus, with regard for a first among equals. I am so grateful for  a team of leaders who are brave enough to disagree at times. They have saved me many times from poor or hasty decisions.

 Collaboration requires both courage and finesse. Colonel Norman Shwartzkopf famously said, "When a decision is being made everyone is obliged to give their perspective. Once a decision has been made, everyone is obliged to give their support." Decisive leaders fear that it will slow down their decision making process, which may be true, but it results in better long term decisions and more buy in from those we lead.


So how do I collaborate?

I've developed a way of flagging the different levels of my convictions about decisions with three icons. A light bulb, a heart and a bull-horn. The differing levels of conviction calls for a differing level of collaboration from the team.

The light bulb indicates that this is just an idea for me, and the team is welcome to shoot it down, disagree, tweak it or run with it if it strikes a chord with them. I am not heavily invested in the idea.    I have lots of ideas, and not all of them are God ideas, or even good ideas! The value of the team is not only on whether it is a good idea, but also whether or not it is practical to implement this idea.


The heart is when I have a perception about something or someone. It is often more intuitive than logical, and it often has to do with a problem that needs solving. Here I need to hear from the team as to whether I am perceiving correctly or not, and if I am, how do we solve the problem together? This is deeper than just an idea, and it may be a God-thing, but I need to see if I am seeing rightly and if so, what we do about it?





The third is the bullhorn, which indicates conviction. This is deeper than an idea or perception. It would be a mix of Biblical truth, prophetic intuition and strategic thinking that has led me to this place of conviction. Sometimes it will be a proposal, but generally it comes after we have discussed a decision at length as a team and have not been able to reach consensus. The team then releases me to go and hear God and come back with a decision.  Obviously the team still has a responsibility to weigh my convictions with Biblical wisdom and to give a different perspective if absolutely necessary, but I am asking the team to be more circumspect in the way they handle this conviction, and to receive it with a measure of trust in God's hand on me as a visionary leader of the team. Their level of collaboration is less on whether or not this is from God or not, and more on how we implement it.

Here's the thing. I do not 'pull the bull horn' too often. The problem is that if a leader 'pulls the bull horn' all the time, decisions will get made, but the team will begin to shut down. If, on the other hand,  all your discussions are in the realm of  idea or perception, then decision making will be painfully slow, often argumentative and will lack the fingerprint of God's leading.

Leading collaboratively is messy and costly but from my vista it is worth the effort.
I encourage you to find ways to assess and adjust the ways you lead.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Praying for the Persecuted Church.


This is the symbol that ISIS has used to mark Christian houses In Iraq. Thousands of Christians have been forced to flee their homes because they bear this symbol. Many Christians around the world have displayed it as a sign of solidarity with the persecuted  Christians in Iraq. Perhaps you will too?

The Gospel has  not only reconciled us to God. It has also reconciled us to the Body of Christ, His Church around the world. When Jesus met Paul the persecutor of the Church on the road to Damascus, He asked him, "Paul, why do you persecute me?" Jesus was saying that He takes persecution to His Body very seriously and personally. After Paul's conversion he wrote, "When one member of the Body rejoices we rejoice with them, and if one member hurts we hurt with them." The writer to the Hebrews also instructs us to, "Continue to remember those who are in prison as if you were together with them and those who are mistreated as if you were yourselves were suffering."

 It is with this in mind that I ask you to read this letter from Nick Saltas, one of our elders and the pastor of our Fullerton campus. We will be praying for the persecuted church tomorrow at both our Brea and Fullerton gathering tomorrow. Join us.


Hi all,

As many of you may be aware, the persecution of Christians in Islamic nations is intensifying, especially in Iraq. As a community of believers we are one body with our brothers and sisters around the world. Please take some focused time to pray for the situation in Iraq. Here are some specific prayer points:
Prayer
  1. Deep courage and new faith for Christians who are facing persecution. That the HS may empower them to speak like he did with Stephan, Peter and John.
  2. The tangible presence of the Holy Spirit as both Comforter and Empowerer as they face horrible decisions.
  3. That, at they face of death, Christ would reign in their hearts and give them peace that surpasses understanding.
  4. The provision of resources including basics like food and water for refugees.
  5. The downfall of ISIS - that God would dismantle this group - that ISIS soldiers would come to have experiences of the living God and Creator  

Below are some details:
• "Christian genocide…children are being beheaded, mothers are being raped and killed, and fathers are being hung."
• "Right now, three thousand Christians are in Iraq fleeing to neighboring cities,"
• "There's actually a park in Mosul where they actually beheaded children and put their heads on a stick... this is crimes against humanity. They are doing the most horrendous, the most heart-breaking crimes that you can think of."
• Christians are given three options, convert, pay a fee, or die by the sword. Arabo reports that after Christians pay the fine, the fighters take the Christian wives and children "and make them their wives - so it's really convert, or die."
• Children who have escaped to the mountains are dying of hunger and thirst
• One poor Christian is forced to say the Shahada 'there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet' and then beheaded anyway.


Facts about ISIS
• IS claims to have fighters from the UK, France, Germany and other European countries, as well as the US, the Arab world and the Caucasus.
•10,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria
• $2 Billion in funding
• More than a million Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes to escape the violence

Graphic reports of ISIS brutality (maybe don’t share?): http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-25440381

All for Him
Nick

Monday, August 4, 2014

Songs in the night


By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. Psalm 42:8

In 1994, the first year of our marriage, I started getting night terrors. I think it was a culmination of burn out from the pressure of trying to hold it all together; complete a post-grad degree, hold down three part-time jobs and continue serving in our local church. I desperately wanted to be a good husband and build a good marriage, but internally I was out of my depth and sinking fast. I'd literally have times when I would feel beside myself, like I was out of my body watching myself. It was weird and scary and culminated in these night terrors that came every so often. It was like spiritual darkness filled the room.

My poor wife. I think she must have wondered where the steady, strong guy to whom she had said I do, had disappeared!  We would wake and pray together until the darkness would subside, and God's peace would return. One night though, it was so bad that prayer didn't seem to have any effect. I was still gripped by fear. The devil was having a field day. It was all I could do to ask my wife to sing over me. She is shy, with a tuneful, but quiet voice. She certainly doesn't consider herself a singer. 
But she is a mighty worshipper. And she began to worship God over me, singing that old worship song "I worship you, Oh mighty God," over and over. Slowly the darkness subsided, as God's peace and presence flooded in. I was the well known worship leader, but my courageous wife led worship for me that night when I was frozen in terror.

Worship is warfare. When God's people were besieged by a great multitude from Edom, God told their leader Jehoshaphat to stand firm, sing and see the salvation of God. As the people sang to the Lord, He set an ambush on the enemy. (2 Chron 20:20) Paul and Silas sang hymns to God after being unjustly beaten, imprisoned and put in stocks for delivering a slave girl of a demon. As they sang, God sent an earthquake that rattled the prison doors open, and broke the prisoners free.  The jailer and his whole family were saved because of this act of God and the example of Paul and Silas.(Acts 16)

Yesterday in my interview with Rynelle, I asked her what we may have lost in worship in the church more recently, she replied, "I think in the last decade we've really tried to recover a depth of truth in our worship. But perhaps we may have lost some of the expectation of encounter as we sing to a resurrected Christ."

Songs in the night are a bending of the heart, mind and will towards the greatness and goodness of our God, rather than the toughness of our situation. Sometimes a song in the night doesn't change the situation immediately, but changes our perspective on the situation.  Jesus sang a hymn with his disciples after he had been betrayed by Judas at the last supper. In fact, on the cross he cried out directly from the Psalms, which was Israel's hymnbook,

"My God , my God why have you forsaken me?" 

 Job sang a song to the Lord after he had lost his children and his possessions.

The Lord gives, the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.

Singing songs in the night is not only glorifying to God and good for us. It is empowering for others. There may be people in your life, people like me in 1994, who need you to sing them through their dark night.

In the words of Ross Graham, "I may need you to sing for me until I can sing for myself."

Saturday, August 2, 2014

"The Pastor's Kid." a reflection.

My daughter and Chelsea, her youth leader and PK buddy
I never pre-order books. But I pre-ordered this one the moment I heard about it, for a couple of reasons. The first was that I'd been thinking about writing on the peculiar phenomena of PK's myself for some time. Maybe even just a blog or two. My first thought was, "Aah, he beat me too it." The truth is that Barnabas Piper, the son of renown preacher and writer John Piper, has an insight and a reach that I may never have, so I'm glad he's done it. It's long overdue, I think.The second more obvious reason, is that I'm a PK myself and my kids are PK's, so I spend a good deal of time reflecting on what  my parents did that I'd want to pass on to my kids. After all, if being a PK was so bad, I'd never have become a pastor. There are certainly some things I experienced that I wouldn't want to pass on to them though, so I want to keep learning and growing as a father to PK's. The truth is I want my kids, and the kids of every couple in vocational ministry to grow up to love and serve Jesus and His church, whether vocationally or not. My wife and I are so grateful that my kids love the church we lead. I hope they always do.

Being a PK is like living in a fish bowl. Barnabas's fish bowl was just bigger and more pressured than most, and he suffered under a feeling of being known of, rather than being known. He makes a profound point when he says the unique pressure a PK faces is that their behavior can literally cause their dad to lose his job. That pressure pushes so many PK's into dishonesty and hypocrisy.

Barnabas's story is one of recovering from the hypocrisy of knowing all about God but not really knowing God Himself. He does a masterful job of describing the complexity of recovering from this PK hypocrisy, and discovering his own faith journey. He's brutally honest about his own wrestles, but fairly vague about his parents shortcomings. I would have preferred if he'd been more specific, although he did describe how his father's God was huge but inaccessible and that he was too serious. Barnabas had to discover a more accessible God.  What is clear in John Piper's foreword is that the book caused him some painful reflection, and yet he commends it to readers. I do too.

For more, click The-Pastors-Kid-Finding-Identity

A few insights in the book that impacted me:
1) Don't manipulate your kids into behaving for fear of making you look bad. That may get results initially, but it will ultimately make your kids either hypocrites or rebels.
2) Don't preach to your kids. They don't need another sermon. Have conversations with them. Be their Dad, not their pastor. 
3) Play with your kids and be affectionate with them. (Barnabas treasures the memories of playing with John more than any sermon or family devotion) 
4) When you confess your sins in front of your family be specific. Vague confessions encourage your kids to be vague with you too. 
5) Find ways to show that this is not just your job, like visiting another church when you're on vacation. 
6) Establish their identity first as children of the Father, not children of a pastor. 

Some random things I'd add, in no particular order.
1) Don't use your kids in sermon illustrations unless you've asked them first. 
It only intensifies the fishbowl feeling.
2) Don't answer the phone during dinner time. Let the kids know that family time is sacred.
3) Celebrate stories of God's provision to your family, and moments of his undeniable power.
4) Allow them space to process the pain of their friends who've moved on to be part of a new church plant. or just plain moved.   
5) Pray that they'd encounter the Holy Spirit at a young age. 
6) Empower younger leaders in the church to disciple your kids too. 
You don't have the whole package.
7) Allow them space to wrestle in faith without the pressure to believe because they ought to.
8) Encourage them to talk about the dynamics of being a PK. You'd be surprised how acutely they feel  it.

How about other insights from PK's, or parents or PK's?